“Now that I don’t believe,” Lucy replied, and then added, because she could not resist, “not for an instant.”

“Well, it does,” Hermione insisted. “I know, because it happened to me. I wasn’t looking to fall in love.”

“Weren’t you?”

“No.” Hermione glared at her. “I wasn’t. I fully intended to find a husband in London. Really, who would have expected to meet anyone in Fenchley?”

Said with the sort of disdain found only in a native Fenchleyan.

Lucy rolled her eyes and tilted her head to the side, waiting for Hermione to get on with it.

Which Hermione did not appreciate. “Don’t look at me like that,” she snipped.

“Like what?”

“Like that.”

“I repeat, like what?”

Hermione’s entire face pinched. “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Lucy clapped a hand to her face. “Oh my,” she gasped. “You looked exactly like your mother just then.”

Hermione drew back with affront. “That was unkind.”

“Your mother is lovely!”

“Not when her face is all pinchy.”

“Your mother is lovely even with a pinchy face,” Lucy said, trying to put an end to the subject. “Now, do you intend to tell me about Mr. Edmonds or not?”

“Do you plan to mock me?”

“Of course not.”

Hermione lifted her brows.

“Hermione, I promise I will not mock you.”

Hermione still looked dubious, but she said, “Very well. But if you do-”

“Hermione.”

“As I told you,” she said, giving Lucy a warning glance, “I wasn’t expecting to find love. I didn’t even know my father had hired a new secretary. I was just walking in the garden, deciding which of the roses I wished to have cut for the table, and then…I saw him.”

Said with enough drama to warrant a role on the stage.

“Oh, Hermione,” Lucy sighed.

“You said you wouldn’t mock me,” Hermione said, and she actually jabbed a finger in Lucy’s direction, which struck Lucy as sufficiently out of character that she quieted down.

“I didn’t even see his face at first,” Hermione continued. “Just the back of his head, the way his hair curled against the collar of his coat.” She sighed then. She actually sighed as she turned to Lucy with the most pathetic expression. “And the color. Truly, Lucy, have you ever seen hair such a spectacular shade of blond?”

Considering the number of times Lucy had been forced to listen to gentlemen make the same statement about Hermione’s hair, she thought it spoke rather well of her that she refrained from comment.

But Hermione was not done. Not nearly. “Then he turned,” she said, “and I saw his profile, and I swear to you I heard music.”

Lucy would have liked to point out that the Watsons’ conservatory was located right next to the rose garden, but she held her tongue.

“And then he turned,” Hermione said, her voice growing soft and her eyes taking on that I’m-memorizing-a-love-sonnet expression, “and all I could think was-I am ruined.”

Lucy gasped. “Don’t say that. Don’t even hint at it.”

Ruin was not the sort of thing any young lady mentioned lightly.

“Not ruined ruined,” Hermione said impatiently. “Good heavens, Lucy, I was in the rose garden, or haven’t you been listening? But I knew-I knew that I was ruined for all other men. There could never be another to compare.”

“And you knew all this from the back of his neck?” Lucy asked.

Hermione shot her an exceedingly irritated expression. “And his profile, but that’s not the point.”

Lucy waited patiently for the point, even though she was quite certain it wouldn’t be one with which she would agree. Or probably even understand.

“The point is,” Hermione said, her voice growing so soft that Lucy had to lean forward to hear her, “that I cannot possibly be happy without him. Not possibly.”

“Well,” Lucy said slowly, because she wasn’t precisely certain how she was meant to add to that, “you seem happy now.”

“That is only because I know he is waiting for me. And”-Hermione held up the letter-“he writes that he loves me.”

“Oh dear,” Lucy said to herself.

Hermione must have heard her, because her mouth tightened, but she didn’t say anything. The two of them just sat there, in their respective places, for a full minute, and then Lucy cleared her throat and said, “That nice Mr. Bridgerton seemed taken with you.”

Hermione shrugged.

“He’s a younger son, but I believe he has a nice portion. And he is certainly from a good family.”

“Lucy, I told you I am not interested.”

“Well, he’s very handsome,” Lucy said, perhaps a bit more emphatically than she’d meant to.

“You pursue him, then,” Hermione retorted.

Lucy stared at her in shock. “You know I cannot. I’m practically engaged to Lord Haselby.”

“Practically,” Hermione reminded her.

“It might as well be official,” Lucy said. And it was true. Her uncle had discussed the matter with the Earl of Davenport, Viscount Haselby’s father, years ago. Haselby was about ten years older than Lucy, and they were all simply waiting for her to grow up.

Which she supposed she’d done. Surely the wedding wouldn’t be too far off now.

And it was a good match. Haselby was a perfectly pleasant fellow. He didn’t speak to her as if she were an idiot, he seemed to be kind to animals, and his looks were pleasing enough, even if his hair was beginning to thin. Of course, Lucy had only actually met her intended husband three times, but everyone knew that first impressions were extremely important and usually spot-on accurate.

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